Tips from a Writer Who Doesn’t Follow the Rules

Write Messy

I am a writer, and I don’t follow the proper “writer” rules. Don’t get me wrong, though I’ve TRIED to follow the rules many times.

The rules:

  • Make writing a priority
  • Write 500 words a day.
  • Find a designated time and place to write.
  • Put a sign on your office door to keep out distractions.
  • Finish one piece before beginning the next.

Though these are great pieces of advice, I am the opposite of all the above. Any writing coach, writer, and business owner would scoff at the way that I write. I understand where they are coming from, but I understand that I am not capable of the above… I have 39 years of proof. I am a single mom of two with a full-time job, and I’m not willing to wake up at zero-dark-thirty to write in peace. I have kid basketball practices, my side gig of curriculum writing to keep up with, and much much more. I have learned to work with the lot I’m given.

I’ve realized over the years two things: 1. I don’t have to write like others. And 2. When I put myself in a box, I am creatively stifled. When I am free to write my way, messy, inconsistently, and no matter how busy the rest of my life is, I actually make much more progress than when I put unrealistic expectations on myself.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and none of it works for more than a few days, then try these non-stress, messy, busy-life writing tips:

1. Write any time, any place, and as much or as little as you can

If you know that you are not consistent, then just go with it. Stop and acknowledge it right now. Say, “I am not consistent and no matter how often I’ve tried I cannot follow a system or program someone else has created. I will only write when I can, how much I can, and wherever I am.”

I always carry around a dot journal. This journal is my generic catch-all journal. I write to-do lists, church sermon notes, prayers, drawings, notes from books, journal entries, or anything else I’m thinking. I carry around this journal because I have tried planners and every type of workbook on the planet, and I work better with the freedom to write anything and anything I want.

If you look through this journal, you’ll see outlines for blogs, chapter summaries, or curriculum outlines. I have this with me to write any moment I get an idea.

I don’t always formalize this information, but many times I do. When I sit down to write a blog, I have many outlines to choose from to build. That means that I don’t have to do the deep thinking quite as much when I have the outline so I am capable of writing in the living room with my kids while cartoons are on. I mentally turn off the sound and focus on building out the content right then and there.

On the few Saturdays I have no games or work to do, I marathon write for hours… as long as I can to finish something… anything, so that I feel at least slightly accomplished.

Do you carry around a dot journal yet?

2. Write messy

I am a full-time English teacher, and BY FAR the biggest problem that I see with students writing, is that they get afraid to write imperfectly, so they either write nothing or something that is forced and not interesting.

I tell them jokingly that their number one objective in all writing is to entertain me with something interesting because I don’t want to be bored reading 120 papers. Although this is obviously not how I grade, it loosens them up and helps them to think about my experience as the reader.

These are a few of the things I tell them:

  • Write messy and edit well.
  • The first draft of anything should be significantly worse than the final draft.
  • We strive for a first draft to be bad because we can work with bad, but we can’t work with nothing.
  • Nothing doesn’t magically turn into something but a messy draft can be revised and something we can be proud of eventually.

Which of the above tips resonates with you the most?

3. Write what inspires you

My journals and google drive are full of starts of books, articles, blogs, and more. I felt guilty for a long time about it. I thought, “I can’t start something new because I haven’t finished what I’ve started yet.” This guilt stopped me from doing anything for a very long time. But when I turned around my thinking, then I was able to write more often and finish more often.

I started realizing that if I didn’t finish it, then I wasn’t meant to finish it (silly, but it helped me not feel guilty and stuck). Secondly, I realized that often, the shorter pieces could be combined into a larger piece. I had outlines, excerpts, and overviews in multiple google docs that could be combined for a larger piece. I had done the hard work of writing it all out, and all I needed to do was compile and edit it.

If it wasn’t for my random and sporadic inspired writing, then I wouldn’t have been able to put all those pieces together. I realized that writing when inspired helped to make the process go more smoothly than I ever thought possible.

What do you find yourself writing the most often? Can you review what you’ve done and see any theme?

4. Write WHEN you are inspired

How often have you sat down to write in your perfect writing space, during your designated writing time, put your fingers on your keyboard and then…. Nothing. You have no idea what to write. When you look at the previous pieces that you are supposed to be finishing, it feels so far from anything you could continue at the moment. It’s too forced and it just won’t work no matter how much you try.

I’m not sure how I learned it, but I actually have extreme, selective hearing. When I’m ready to sit down to write, I can literally turn out every other sound around me and write… If I feel inspired to write, I don’t always have time to start and finish it, but I will write down key points and build out a concept with as much time that I do have. Later, I feel anticipation to carve out some time to finish and publish soon. If you can’t turn out the world like I can, throw some headphones in or don’t feel guilty about putting the kids mindlessly in front of the TV or Ipad for hours, so you can focus.

How will you use this tip?

5. Look back, finish, and publish your stuff SOMEWHERE!!

If you write when inspired, you are likely going to notice that you have a ton of random starts to random ideas in your journal and google drive as I do. You might realize that you already have a ton of content to build from.

When you have more time, give yourself time to review what you’ve done, and consider the options. Which one do you have the least amount of work to finish? Which one would feel really good to finally finish?

Pick something that will give you instant gratification to see finished. Even more ideally, if you have a few hours, then find the 3 or 4 pieces that are close to being done and finish them all during that time. Marathon writing sessions are one of the most fun things in my life. I love having 4 or 5 hours where I can focus on writing and finishing. Seeing my progress and feeling that satisfaction of hitting publish on my blog makes the lack of publishing for weeks completely okay.

What’s the next writing piece that will give you instant gratification to finish: the next chapter, a blog post that is almost done, or something else?

6. Stop stressing about a timeline or publishing schedule

Last month, I planned on publishing my book. Since I’m being vulnerable with you, I’m going to share some uncomfortable truths… I gave myself an extremely unrealistic launch date for my book. Four days before I was supposed to press play, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen and I was so devastated that I didn’t write for a week. Totally unlike me. I didn’t use any of my tips, I didn’t overcome, and I wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to encourage me out of my funk. I was so disappointed in myself.

I’m sure you see the hypocrisy in me telling you to not be stressed about a timeline. BUT… know that it’s going to happen… the timeline is going to be crushed at some point in your writing career.

Now some of you live for the schedule (if you are that person, you’ve probably not gotten this far in the article), but those of you who are writing for fun or to build a habit over the longterm, this is my simplified advice:

Write anything often, and finish good stuff regularly.

Not sure that anyone is going to plaster this on an inspirational writing poster, but it’s something we should honestly consider… we know that we don’t finish because we are obsessed with perfect, but writing often gives us more to work with and knowing that the objective to publish something is the ultimate goal. (For more about avoiding perfectionism, I highly suggest the book: Finish by Jon Acuff.)

When have you been disappointed by not meeting a deadline?

7. Write in your head before you write

No joke, 90% of my writing happens in my head while I’m driving, doing the dishes, or right before I fall asleep (that’s why I keep my trusty journal next to my bed often). When I think about writing, I think about the following:

  • What is it going to say? The key points and take away.
  • What is it going to do? For the audience, for my business, etc.
  • What will it lead to? A series of posts, one chapter of a book, or be used as a lead magnet.
  • What will it do? Establish me as an expert, learn with my audience, grow my audience, etc.
  • What will it look like? I try to visualize what the end product will look like, what will be, where, and which analogies or visuals will I use.

This act of visualizing or meditating is vital for me to writing.

See it before you write it.

Where will you do your visualizing?

8. Intentionally fail at things blocking you from writing

In Finish by Jon Acuff, Jon mentions that we need to refuse perfectionism and “decide to fail” in certain areas of our life. Our desire to be perfect in every area makes us fail in the areas that we want to succeed in. When we are obsessed with holding up all the plates, we are bound to drop some. So it’s important to choose things to fail.

For me it’s laundry… I let my laundry get out of hand many times because I’d rather take the time that I would be wasting folding laundry to write. I’d rather make my kids dig through the laundry basket for a few weeks while I work to build my business and my reach. The long term goal is more important to me than the short term time spend doing something I hate anyways.

What’s your thing you will intentionally let go?

I hope that after hearing these tips, you’ll realize a few things:

  • Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You love writing so write what you love.
  • We all know you are a busy person, but make time to do what you love: Write!!
  • If the book is not going to keep you from living on the streets, it’s going to take a while. Writing one sentence a day, when you can squeeze in time is better than not writing anything, so write the one sentence a day!
  • People need your stuff. You are being selfish if you don’t share it. Give them what they need!!

Which tip is the one you needed to hear today? What will you do starting now?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *